By:Thandiwe Kubere and Koena Mokobocho
Having stepped further from the society’s norms and doing things the unconventional way, Nkhabu has earned his stripes and made himself a name across borders, for breaking barriers, further becoming inspiration to the youth by finding opportunities where other people would not think of.
Tšepo Nkhabu was born in Lesotho and lives in Mafeteng district. He is a 27-year old who speaks eight languages. Amongst his passions, he shared his undying love for cycling, and creating an equitable and just world for all.
At 16 years old, he founded Hands of Life-Cycling (HoL), a youth organization based in Mafeteng, which uses cycling as a modality to empower the youth. The organization uses bicycles that were donated from Germany and America to engage young people by educating them on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and teaching them life and leadership skills to impact positive changes. HoL encourages a healthy lifestyle for youth, camping, technical training, and sports. The center also provides a safe place where youth can explore their dreams, access free Wi-Fi for homework, develop entrepreneurial skills, and do much more.
When a sixteen year old brings their innovation to light and forms a movement of this sort, people often assume the kid is smart, but that is not necessarily the case because everyone is uniquely smart and gifted, it is only a matter of whether one utilises their gift or not, as he puts it. “Everyone in this world is important and if they are given the support to realize their potential, they can reach greater heights”, declared Nkhabu.
“When I first established the center, most people perceived me as an extraordinary child, when I really was not. Establishing a youth center happened at an unfashionable time for someone my age”, he said. He believes this is because one’s capabilities or positive contribution in the community as well as their social impact, is only expected to show around the ages of 18 and above.
In his journey of being a young founder, he encountered a number of challenges and moments of absolute triumph. The dreamer in him summoned courage and he used his talent irrespective of age and geographic location. “I used my gift at the right time when it was necessary. I didn’t wait for a certain age to make use of the innovation and intelligence, and I took the opportunity immediately when it was exposed.”
He explained what inspired him to establish the youth center was the realization that in his community, there was not enough channels or spaces for adolescents to pursue school and enhance their knowledge as much as they would wish to, or to engage in positive conversations as well as a safe space for addressing their problems and finding relevant solutions.
“The process of coming up with such was not easy. I had to apply for sponsorships, and I would get responses like, ‘the idea is nice, but we cannot support you now. You are young, how are you going to manage the funds?’
“This is because it is unlikely to see a young person behave well when they have finances. I knew that I would be doubted. But it is also about looking for other people who would believe in you, and I found them. Then, those who did not believe at first later realized that it was possible and that they too could believe in young people”, he revealed.
His love for cycling stems from his childhood, when his father, who worked at the mines, would buy him and his sibling’s bicycles. Nkhabu explained his passion peaked when he came back to Lesotho, since he was studying in South Africa, and discovered the sport was relatively different and not quite popular in Lesotho. He also saw few young people cycling and decided to join them.
“I told them we could make cycling a huge program. I followed that passion and created a youth space. In 2017, our organization received a container with 200 bicycles from Germany and some local shops and organizations in Lesotho donated bikes”, he said.
The youth center has impacted his life in a positive way. Some of the life lessons he attained was becoming more patient and trusting God. “I have also learned to believe in myself. People are dynamic, so I have learned to love, help, and support, as well as understand people the way they are, regardless of their circumstances.” He declared he also acquired the skill of appropriately managing finances.
“I worked every day from day rise to sunset, helping young people with cycling, fixing bicycles, handling accounts and doing everything in the organization to ensure its success. But it was not easy anyway, I have missed a lot of things. I haven’t attended any parties, or spend time around my peers doing fun activities or trips for fun. This is because I made a choice because the circumstances did not allow time for fun, so that became a habit.”
However, he mentioned he would still like to have time to enjoy life before his youth years are gone. Because of this reason, he has started finding fun activities to do with friends and spends more time with family. “I started separating my time from that of the organization, because it has other capable people and a committee to run it in my absence. The mistake we make is that we want to start something and own it until we die”, he said.
He explained he is now looking into helping other organizations which have just started out, with skills he has acquired around the world, including those of leadership and financial management, during his years of practice. “I hope there will be more youth centers around Lesotho because they help keep young people busy, improve their literacy and opportunities can always be shared at a youth center. So we also seek help from the government.”
Nkhabu stated organizations like, to mention a few; the United States embassy, UNDP Lesotho, BAM Group Foundation, global volunteers in the United Kingdom, Committee members from Hands of Life and friends he made all over the world have been supporting his idea.
Giving advice to those who would like to engage in charity and community service work he said, “Let everything you say you do for the community, benefit the community. Let it not be a space for personal enrichment. When you start an organization and bring people on board, it is going to work for you both, you will share your skills, and gain more skills. So it is a space where all gain and not just individualist gains. When you start a problem-solving organization, don’t make those problems yours. Often, people who are leaders make the mistake of making problems their own such that they don’t sleep at night.”
He therefore encouraged people to set firm boundaries between work and their personal lives because not only one person is responsible for solving problems. “Even if you are given a good heart for the community, don’t put the weight of the society on your shoulders alone. Recognize the problems and call people to aid in solving those problems. Don’t do it for the people, do it with the people. And also don’t just do it to solve the problems of today but also consider how it can benefit the future generation.”
Since 2012, Tšepo has organized multiple community events, hosting fundraising activities, sporting events, and leadership workshops .In 2014- 2017, his organization was granted a U.S.A Peace Corps Volunteer who also helped to develop a website for the organization. Besides that, in 2017, Tsepo became a Mandela-Washington Fellow and participated in leadership courses at Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, earning two leadership recognition certificates.
In 2019 Tšepo and HoL were featured by CNN television “African Voices”, where they produced a documentary on his work.
He has also worked for two years at Mafeteng Community Radio in the marketing department and then later managed the production in the studio, producing advertisements, developing the station’s website, and presenting information on health issues. In the same year, he partnered with Having P.U.R.P.O.S.E, Inc. -a U.S.A based charity organizations, promoting the SDGs globally, and the organization sponsored his trips to be part of the Youth Connekt Summit in 2019 and 2021, where he learned more about collaboration and leadership.
In 2021, he collaborated with many local and international partners to launch the first annual Lesotho Independence Ride from the HoL Youth Centre. The youth center was officially re-launched by the U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho and Hon. Mokhethi Shelile. The very same year, Tsepo was selected to represent Lesotho at the White House Summit for Democracy Youth Town Hall.
The organization also partnered with UN, implementing the first STEAM Conference spearheaded by the UNDP. Over and above, he believes that all things are possible through collaboration, and he explains his goal as finding partners and sponsors to collaborate on his next big mission, which is launching Cycle4SDGs Africa where youth-sponsored teams from each of the 55 nations cycle across Africa to promote the SDGs and empower each other.